How “Smart” is the Growth and New Development in the Lehigh Valley?


NIZ

How “smart” is the growth and new development in the Lehigh Valley?

As we watch downtown Allentown’s rebirth, the importance of using the principles of Smart Growth has been on our minds, especially as it applies to walkability.

Understanding Traditional Neighborhood Developments (TND) and their principles, we think that the development in Allentown is very “smart.”

Traditional Neighborhood Developments are urban or village-style developments (either existing neighborhoods or new ones) that include a variety of housing types, a mixture of land uses and an active center. TNDs have a connected walkable design with a transit option in a compact neighborhood. Often there is a street grid with numbered streets.

Traditionally built cities like Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton and boroughs such as Emmaus, Hellertown and Nazareth are traditional neighborhoods by definition. There used to be just one way to build. New “infill” developments that take place within these communities would qualify as TND or “Smart Growth” if they follow the principles of Smart Growth.

The Ten Principles of Smart Growth are clearly evidenced in Allentown’s resurgence. Although citizens may argue a couple of points (and we welcome lively discussions), we believe that Allentown and its NIZ demonstrate Smart Growth and are taking the city on the right (walkable) path!

According to the Smart Growth Network, the ten accepted principles that define smart growth are:

  1. Mix land uses.
  2. Take advantage of compact building design.
  3. Create a range of housing opportunities and choices.
  4. Create walkable neighborhoods.
  5. Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place.
  6. Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas.
  7. Strengthen and direct development towards existing communities.
  8. Provide a variety of transportation choices.
  9. Make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost effective.
  10. Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions.

But what about what’s built in the Lehigh Valley’s greenfields?

Regrettably, unlike other areas of the country we have not seen nor heard evidence of real New Urbanist-style developments being built on greenfields in the Lehigh Valley.

Seasidekentlands

New Urbanist Developments like Seaside Village in FL and The Kentlands in MD provide inspiration for what is possible in compact, walkable, mixed-use new developments in the Lehigh Valley. If you are a township official or greenfield developer who is presently working on zoning for or building a new village consistent with the principles of smart growth, please let us know.

However, because people are asking for it, walkability is finding it’s way into newly constructed conventional suburban developments. It’s our position that any increase in walkability which reduces our dependence on our automobiles and connects residential areas to retail is an improvement that we can all get excited about.

After a recent drive past construction of one the region’s most anticipated commercial developments, Hamilton Crossings in Lower Macungie Township, we began to wonder about the true “walkability” of this development.

HamiltonCrossings

It’s not “Smart Growth” because it doesn’t have a mix of uses. However, we asked, “Will people in the nearby residential neighborhoods actually be able to walk safely to the stores?”

Located on the Rte. 222 bypass and Krocks Road, Hamilton Crossings is being developed by Staten Island-based developer Timothy Harrison. He has said during meetings with Lower Macungie officials that he wants this commercial venture, which will be home to restaurants and large chain stores like Costco, Target and Whole Foods, to be “walkable.” He said that he wants to model it after the Promenade Shops in Saucon Valley.
Walking at the Promenade is easy, safe and there are sidewalks and beautiful outdoor common spaces – but it’s not connected to residential development nearby. At Hamilton Crossings there are residential neighborhoods within walking distance. Our hope is that residents who live near all new suburban development will be able to walk safely to commercial destinations.
By next summer Hamilton Crossings will be open. How walkable will it be?

hamilton crossings, 2
Good news. It turns out — surprisingly walkable – especially for people who live ½ mile east of Hamilton Boulevard. According to Sara Pandl, Lower Macungie Township’s planner, people who live in the areas east of the shopping mall will have a continuous dedicated walkway to the stores from their neighborhoods (including Shepherd Hills, Harvest Fields, Westwoods, Meadowick Condominiums and Hamilton Fields). Thanks to funding from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and an easement from PPL, a half-mile trail will be built in the PPL corridor (where all the power lines are located) east of the shopping mall.
“There also will be walkways along the entire stretch of Krocks Road and there are a couple miles of walkways inside the project itself,” Pandl said.
More good news. On the west side of the Rte. 222 bypass, Pandl said the township is currently working to get a walkway installed from Country Meadows, as well as a bike lane. The goal, according to Pandl, is to make Hamilton Boulevard a “Complete Street” – which means “multi-modal,” or with more than one type of transportation mode having access to it. Along those lines, good work has been done by Lower Macungie Township in the development of their Hamilton Blvd. Study by the Kairos Design Group. It conceives of a “Complete Streets” model for that corridor, calling for pedestrian and bicycle intrastructure that interconnects with transit to make it easier to get around without your car.
Retrofitting suburban communities to be walkable has been a challenge, but is not impossible, as evidence by this study and the work of citizen activist, Jim Palmquist. His herculean efforts are changing the face and function of Lower Macungie Township.

If you are a planner or traffic engineer or a municipal official who hires these professionals, there are resources to help you make our Lehigh Valley communites more walkable and bikeable — “smarter.” The American Planning Association, APA, has partnered with the National Complete Streets Coalition to develop a guide for planners who want to include complete streets in their designs.

We encourage you to:

  • If you’re a planner or traffic engineer, become versant in “Complete Streets” and help retrofit the streets of the Lehigh Valley.
  • Tired of maintaining your yard? Live a less auto-dependent lifestyle by moving to a traditional neighborhood like those found in the cities and boroughs of our region. As of last month, Stratta, the high end apartments in downtown Allentown are now available to rent!
  • Make your local municipal officials aware that you want pedestrian connectivity in your community. Be like Jim Palmquist and keep asking. Don’t give up.
  • If you’re a local planning commissioner or elected offical, support sidewalk ordinances and resist the temptation to hand out variances. Take the stand of Emmaus Borough Council President, Lee Gilbert. She recently told me when I asked her what her position on sidewalks is, “You’ve got to put them in.”
  • Pass TND ordinances.  Here’s one from Montgomery County, PA.
  • Stay informed of what is going on around the country and the Lehigh Valley regarding Smart Growth through our RenewLV Facebook page. “Like us” and leave comments.
  • If you want to connect in person, send me an email at smartgrowth@renewlv.org or give me a call at 484-893-1060.
  • To get plugged in, consider serving on one of our dynamic committees: Farmland Preservation, Food Sustainability, Smart Transportation or Smart Growth Education and Outreach — or help volunteer for our full-day conference, the Summit for Smart Growth and Sustainable Communities on December 4th.If you’ve appreciated our emails or events and if you want to continue to connect with others who support smart growth, sustainability and municipal cooperation, please contribute to our financial health by making a donation today. Over 700 people “like” us on Facebook. However, nothing says you really “like” us as much as showing financial support. Please become a real friend and give today.

Thank you for all that you do to learn about and implement smart growth, sustainability and municipal cooperation in the Lehigh Valley. Together we are making a difference!

Posted on August 6, 2015, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. We have made some positive strides in Lower Mac. As much as political reality would allow last few years.

    But we need to go further in terms of land preservation and smarter growth.

  2. Looking at the smart growth checklist, I’d say smarter than we’re used to, but not smart enough. A + for land use and putting development downtown.
    The LMT development, however, is not helping to develop ‘distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place’ or ‘preserving open space, farmland, natural beauty…’.
    The planned bike lane apparently does not provide any physical separation from motor vehicles, nor does it include plans to make intersections safe for bicyclists.
    The planned ‘dedicated walkway’ from developments to the east is an unknown — will it be paved? Plowed promptly in the winter? Will it also provide bicycle access so bike riders can avoid Hamilton Boulevard?
    Will all of these improvements use pervious pavement wherever possible to minimize stormwater impacts?

  3. All good points. If I had it my way the bike paths on Hamilton Boulevard would be protected. I hope, in the future we can at least semi protect them with rumble strips.

    And your right. Hamilton Crossings is a strip mall. It is a strip mile with something like a mile and a half of walking paths. But it is still a power center, strip in character.

    But consider the board in it’s current form inherited this project (I’m one of 5 and I ran on smart growth issues) I think we were able to get some nods to better built form as a part of it.

    We have a LONG way to go.

    In a couple days I’m hoping to post a link to our Boulevard vision plan. Really, it’s a placemaking plan. Much more aggressive then what we have had in the past in Lower Mac.

    It’s a advisory document only. Lots of work to do. Our zoning code actually prevents better built form at this point. Our commercial zoning ordinance is straight out of the 1970s.

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